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What Sets the Most Successful Managers Apart?

02/06/2015 02:49 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2015

Do you think you could do a better job than your boss when it comes to bringing out the best in people at work? If you're nodding your head, 84 percent of employees agree with you and even 63 percent of managers confess their leadership skills are average or below.

So what sets the most successful managers apart?

"More than a decade of research suggests great manager know what their employee's strengths are -- those things they're good at and enjoy doing. They also know what kind of feedback and appreciation each person desires. Then they put these two pieces of knowledge together to tailor feedback so it's meaningful and powerful," explained Dr Shane Lopez, a senior scientist at Gallup and research director of the Clifton Strengths Institute, when I interviewed him recently.

"To achieve this we need to shift our thinking about the role of managers," suggested Shane. "Traditionally it may have been acceptable for managers to do or say little that would encourage each person to do what they do best and instead aim for a one size fits all in terms of feedback and work habits. But with studies now finding that even just one strengths feedback session with an employee each year can make a big difference in engagement, profitability and productivity, clearly our thinking needs to shift."

Having championed the value of strengths approaches in workplaces for more than a decade, the good news Shane suggests is that we're reaching a tipping point. While in 2001 only 2 out of every 10 said they had a chance to use their strengths each day at work, but with more than 2 million college students -- the managers of tomorrow -- now able to apply their strengths Shane believes that in future it will be 4, 5 or even 6 in every 10 people.

In the mean time, here are three ways today's managers can be more successful leaders:

  • Find A Strengths Buddy - With only 30 percent of American employees reporting they're engaged at work, managers need to be the chief engagement offices for their team. To do this well they need to feel engaged themselves. One of the best places to start is to partner up with a colleague, each take the StrengthsFinder Survey (there is even a new version for Entrepreneurs) and then give each other solid feedback about how you're using your talents, how you're not using your talents and also help you uncover opportunities to do what you do best everyday at work.
  • Catch People Doing Great Work - Catching people doing great work and giving them feedback about why you value and appreciate their strengths being used in this way at the office boosts confidence, development and performance. Ideally this should be provided at least once a week, but also annual and quarterly reviews should be at least 80% focused on what you do right and about 20% on what you're struggling with.
  • Ignore No-One - Ignoring someone is kind of the kiss of death when it comes to engagement. It's better to criticize someone using old management methods or use a stick or a carrot to get someone to perform, than to ignore them. Of course it's even better to give them praise or recognition in a style that they desire most.
If you'd like more tested, practical ways to put your strengths to work, then grab this free e-book from the latest science in positive psychology.

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